There have been several instances lately that have returned me to childhood. For some reason during our camping excursion I started interrupting all otherwise pleasant camp songs with “Mahna Mahna!” from that classic sketch/song, originally premiering on the Ed Sullivan Show, and then on the premier of The Muppet Show… in 1969. I had yet to be born, but the Muppets were still such a constant in my childhood… partially as passed down after my older brother grew up with the Muppets. To this day, my brother and I get “Mahna Mahna!” stuck in our heads for weeks at a time, interrupting any moment of silence with the key phrase of the song… and it’s every bit as funny as it was the first time. I am guilty of posting these videos on Facebook but have been thanked by many friends for bringing the song into their heads in the midsts of midterms and just our adult lives in general.
In addition, my cousin is about to have a baby, and for her baby shower I purchased some of the classic books from childhood to send to her (since I was unable to make the shower itself, being that it was in Maine and I am in D.C…. Goodnight Moon, The Very Hungry Caterpillar, and Clifford the Big Red Dog have been sitting on my coffee table ready for me to send them to her… but I almost don’t want to part with them (or want to immediately go out and purchase them again, for myself). Goodnight Moon is especially nostalgia-inducing… the images are so burned in my memory. I must have made my mother read it to me hundreds of times, and I probably read it on my own when I was able at least a hundred times more. These books are what instilled in me a love of story, and a love for the particulars… Goodnight light, And the red balloon, Goodnight bears, Goodnight chairs…
Then of course there is the film version of Where the Wild Things Are, put together by Spike Jonze and Dave Eggers. I found myself smiling foolishly through all of the fun parts, and my heart breaking a little in the sadder moments…. I was very much reminded not that I was a Wild Thing as a child myself, but of the activities which were most soothing and completing for my little kid soul… making igloos in snow banks, playing that the floor was lava and we couldn’t touch it, the building of forts and playing with any number of stuffed animals, already building stories for them in my imagination… fortunately my brother was (sometimes) more than happy to play these games with me and I did not spiral into total wildness… but I can see and feel the residuals of this experience in my tendencies now (since seeing the film I have had this extreme desire to run around and crash into things, and very playfully jumped around a lot on my last hiking excursion… which, not surprisingly, made the day a whole lot of fun).
These artifacts from my very young self have conjured in me a renewed sense of awe in my every day life. It’s not quite nostalgia, and not quite sentimentality, just a good reminder to keep my eyes as wide open and laughter as available as those days so long ago. I’ve been thinking a lot about this in relation to my continued experience with Frederick Law Olmsted, the landscape architect whose prose works are the source material for the collection of poems I am writing. I am working, at the moment, with his autobiographical passages. It even turns out he took some “tours” in some of the places I’ve lived in Massachusetts, Maine, and New Hampshire. It turns out we had a similar childhood – while we certainly read a lot, we both consider our significant education to have come from the ability to wander and our time out of doors. There is something comforting to know my source material has the same “source material” I did, despite that none of the things I am now referring to existed at the moment… so much else still translates across childhoods… whatever else teaches us to build things and laugh a lot, to notice… I wonder if all of us who maintain a sense of awe for leaf and breeze in our adult lives came from this kind of “education”.
Nature has always been the one thing that can return me to that feeling I remember so clearly as a mark of my childhood. Certainly the idea of parks and recreation is a way, of sorts, to make sure this experience is available to everyone throughout their lives. A park is a place set aside for play, for wandering, for sheer experience of the day in absense of life’s other stresses. Olmsted truly believed a park could counter any negative psychological or physiological effects of a city… the stresses of our otherwise well-occupied lives. Parks are places that can open us up to “a pleasurable wakefulness of the mind” as Olmsted put it. That pleasurable wakefulness has returned to me lately, through these artifacts and through Olmsted, and I could not be more grateful for it.